So, yes, Virginia, it IS January, Christmas is long over, and Santa, I suppose, has returned to the North Pole.
But, since our holiday decorations continue to deck the halls and walls AND since winter really hasn’t hit Colorado (it was 62 degrees on Tuesday!), it doesn’t seem *that* late – or not too late – to share a little about the holiday season, mainly the few days that we spent in Taos, NM. We came upon this idea back in October, scheming with some other family members about where to spend Christmas. A few people were up for a change – for different reasons – but then the question remained – “where to go?”. No one felt very flush with cash (all of us involved in the trip had recently moved), and we all preferred to stay somewhat close to home – to go some place that would be a fairly easy drive. Ski resorts were out because of the first criterion. Plus, we already had passes, so it would have been silly to go to Telluride and spend lots and lots of $$$$$$$ on skiing when we’ll be skiing at Copper or Eldora on a regular basis as it is (fingers crossed that some more snow will fall!).
We tossed around a few ideas, and then decided on Taos, NM. The five of us visited Taos together a few years ago the week before Christmas, and we all enjoyed the experience – it’s a beautiful town, there are excellent places to eat, and the price and proximity also made it a good choice for us. So, Taos it was!
Michael and I broke our trip to Taos up – leaving on Friday afternoon and spending the night with his brother and sister-in-law in Salida, Colorado, and then driving on to Taos Saturday morning. Even though it’s only 5 hours from Golden, we figured “Oh, why not have an easy day on Saturday?”. It’s an absolutely beautiful part of the country, so we settled in and enjoyed the drive – we’ve been watching Godless on Netflix, and this part of the world, even now, reminds you that there are large swaths of land in our country that still seem a bit more wild, untamed and isolated. We arrived in Taos on Saturday, December 23, and it was bustling – plenty of people around, I guess to do holiday shopping? While I’ve been to Santa Fe, I haven’t spent much time there, so I can’t compare, but I imagine that Taos is Santa Fe’s step-sibling, or maybe a cousin. Quite alike, but Taos doesn’t attract the crowds – at least not in December, which, of course, is the off-season. Despite the ‘busyness’ of Saturday, it really wasn’t even that crowded.
We spent Saturday afternoon “touring” Taos – at least the museums and the area around the plaza, stopping by the Taos Art Museum and the Harwood Art Museum. While I think that the Harwood Museum’s exhibits and art are better, I’m still glad that we went to the Taos Art Museum – the structure itself, a home built by an artist in the 30’s, is worth a visit as it’s a beautiful work of craftsmanship. I remembered the Harwood Museum from our last visit, and I liked it just as much this time, especially the landscapes by Martin Hennings, Victor Higgins and Ernest Blumenschein, who were all part of the Taos Society of Artists. On Sunday, Christmas Eve day, we spent more time browsing the galleries, of which there are many! We actually missed our favorite favorite gallery from last time – well, we weren’t super crazy about the paintings but loved the kinetic animal sculptures! I’m not about to judge most of the art we saw, but I’ll say that our favorite gallery was Total Arts Gallery, about a block off the plaza on Kit Carson Rd (Yes, that really is a road in Taos). While this gallery had plenty Southwestern Art, there were also works that were more contemporary and a great mix of styles. I will say that most of the art was well above my price point, but… looking is free?
While we didn’t enjoy the outdoor activities that Taos offers (such as skiing and hiking), we did experience – just a little – Taos Pueblo, just north of town, on Christmas Eve. It was a pretty unique experience, and I’m certainly not going to do it justice nor do I want to sound as if we stumbled on the experience by accident. Not at all! But, everything I read plus everyone in town called it a ‘must-do’, so we happily obliged, heading over to the Pueblo just before sunset. There was a long line of cars, so we parked where we could and walked about a mile or so to the Pueblo, following along the other people who were also making their way to the celebration and enjoying the sun as it began its descent behind the mountains.
Once we arrived at the Pueblo, we joined the throngs of people there to witness a fascinating mix of indigenous and Christian traditions, as a procession of Native American dancers and a statue of the Virgin Mary wove around the area. Meanwhile, people set off bonfires throughout the Pueblo – as the sun set, fires were aglow everywhere! And, while there were plenty of tourists there, like us, to witness a unique experience, it also felt like a deep community event as people greeted each others, entire families were certainly there. I felt a bit like an intruder, watching the spectacle rather than being a part of it. At the same time, it was a beautiful experience, and how could we not appreciate it?
These aren’t the best photos, but you can see the progression – as we arrived, setting up the bonfires, starting to light them (in the middle photo above you can barely make out a guy who climbed ON TOP of the bonfire to light it!)and then once the fires were really going.
We ended the evening stopping by the church, San Gerónimo, where the procession began. It is TINY and beautiful – adobe and also represents that mix of cultures, with paintings of corn, beans and flowers throughout the interior of the church (sorry – photos are NOT allowed!). I know that I’m not describing this experience fully, and maybe that’s okay. I can say that it is both beautiful and interesting, and while I was certainly an outsider, there is a communal sense of sharing an experience – of celebrating winter, the end of the year, and the beginning of something new.
Speaking of churches, the other site we visited was the Church of Saint Francis which is south of central Taos – a short drive, but still a drive. It is reputed to be one of the most photographed churches in the US. I’m not about to weigh in on that debate, but I can attest to the fact that it is beautiful.
I would return just to see this church lit up on Christmas eve with the luminarias!
It sounds strange – I’m not very religious these days, but there was something about being in an area that felt, well, spiritual. Maybe, after the rollercoaster year we’d all experienced, that was something else that Taos gave us?
Last but not least, a few details about food and lodging. Taos isn’t necessarily a culinary capital, but it’s no slouch either, and we ate out a few times – twice, actually, at Doc Martin’s (no relation to the shoe company), once for dinner and then for breakfast the day we left. The chile relleno there is pretty fantastic, and so are the drinks! For Christmas dinner, we had an EARLY dinner at Lambert’s, which offered a pretty good Christmas menu and was conveniently close to where we were staying (and we could just walk over!). Lambert’s was great – a ‘typical’ adobe setting, it felt elegant but not stuffy at all, and the food was excellent. We didn’t eat all of our meals out, since we had rented a house just 2 blocks or so off the plaza, and it was perfect (except for the questionable Southwestern art).
It’s always great to visit a place and think “I can’t wait to return to see more”. I absolutely feel that way about Taos – while I’d like to really see Santa Fe one of these days, it would be great to return to Taos in the spring or fall, to see different colors, to explore a bit more of the trails around the town, to camp, to hike, to bike and to take in a different side of this area.